China Ink

Kangaroo courting?

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard completed her first official trip to Beijing last week

Kangaroo courting?

Beijing not her first stop?

Gillard made Japan the first leg of her Asian tour, unlike her predecessor Kevin Rudd, who skipped Japan completely during his tour in 2008, wrote Han Feng in the China Daily. The People’s Daily agreed that there was significance in the trip’s sequencing: by going first to Japan and then South Korea, Gillard was signalling that Canberra would not ignore older alliances.

Gillard’s government faces a difficult balancing act in Australia’s relations with the US and China, wrote Hugh White in The Age. “One is our major ally, the other our biggest export market and the locomotive of our economy.”

But at least the visit signified the renunciation of Rudd’s China policy, thought Andrew Shearer in The Australian. “Gone, apparently, is the romantic conceit that Australia can form a special relationship with the Middle Kingdom. Gone are the mixed messages and the disappointed expectations on both sides.”

Still, some scope for disagreement?

Chinese coverage of Gillard’s visit was quite low-key, and concentrated on trade ties between the two countries. But some commentators did pick up on remarks that Gillard had just made at an Anzac Day service in Seoul to commemorate the Battle of Kapyong, at which 32 Australian troops were killed resisting a much larger Chinese force. “Inappropriate”, thought Han Feng, “but in a weak government, Gillard has had to take stances to gain support.”

The timing of the Kapyong commemoration was a little awkward, agreed John Garnaut in the Sydney Morning Herald. Gillard also said she didn’t think Canberra and Beijing would agree on every issue (“one area of difference is human rights,” she said) but that commercial ties were now much stronger than before.

But relations now
But relations now improving?

China’s ambassador to Australia, Chen Yuming, told Xinhua that Gillard’s visit would help deepen mutual understanding. “Australia will have the opportunity to learn about China in many fields, including the tremendous progress made in the field of human rights,” he said.

But apart from considering studying and travelling abroad, ordinary Chinese think of Australia little, the Global Times noted. Still, it was hopeful of improved relations between the two countries, especially after a “difficult” 2009.

Foremost on the mind of any Chinese leader when thinking about Australia is “resources, resources and resources”, wrote Linda Jakobson at the Lowy Institute. Energy consultant Wood Mackenzie reports that Chinese companies remain in M&A mode. For example, PetroChina has $40 billion of cash ready to spend on new natural gas supply from Australia.

But results from a recent Lowy public opinion survey show that Australians have a “realistic but wary” attitude towards China, according to an editorial in The Australian. Three-quarters of those surveyed saw China’s economic growth as good for Australia but 44% expected China to become more of a military threat in the coming decades.

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